(Go here to see the first chapter of this serial, soon to be broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, starring William Powell as Buddy, John Barrymore as The Ancient Mariner, and Miss Myrna Loy as Cordelia.)
Buddy held some little fish that oozed a brackish oil all over his fingers. He’d taken one bite and was waiting for a good opportunity to toss the remainder to a fat black cat staring at him from under the table when the Mariner loomed up again. A dose of pepper spray was what this fool needed.
“Butterfish,” he said. “Guess what the marinade is,” pronouncing it marinahd. “I adapted it ever so slightly from a Breton peasant recipe.”
And he bared his yellowed sea-dog teeth.
“Uh, I dunno --”
And I don’t give a fuck, you Bretonphiliac fool --
Motor oil? Brylcreem? Used greasepaint?
“Beats me,” said Buddy.
“Olive oil, sea salt -- and it must be sea salt, coarsely-ground -- pepper -- fresh-ground pepper --” he tossed that in quickly because it went almost but not quite without saying, “and -- here’s the secret -- paprika.” His kohl-rimmed eyes widened and bulged and then relaxed. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” said Buddy.
“Go ahead, just eat the whole thing, bones and head and all. Delicious!”
What are you going to do?
Buddy shoved the whole fucking thing into his mouth.
The Mariner watched Buddy chew.
Buddy nodded, chewing, forcing it down.
“Mmm. Yeah. Good.”
He noticed that the Mariner was wearing wooden clogs.
“Would you like the recipe?”
“Mmm, yeah. Sure,” said Buddy.
The Mariner produced a little leather notepad and a fountain pen from within his tweed jacket.
Buddy picked up a paper napkin and wiped his lips and his fingers while the Mariner wrote away.
It was true the fart had taken off the Ancient Mariner cap he’d worn during his performance, but on the other hand he’d put on a black beret. Which was worse? They were equally bad, but the fact that the Mariner had replaced a bad thing with an equally bad thing made the beret seem worse. Also he had an earring. No, it was a stud. And he was wearing one of those collarless dress shirts that had been all the rage about ten years ago.
Buddy took a good gulp of wine. One thing about that fish, it was so foul it made the wine taste almost not bad.
Finally the Mariner tore off the page and handed it to Buddy. Whatever he’d written was mostly illegible. Which was okay.
“The peasants know,” said the Mariner, watching to make sure that Buddy folded up the recipe and put it in his pocket. (Later that night Buddy would rip up this recipe into tiny little pieces and flush them down the toilet.) “Simplicity. Every year I go to the same little fishing village in Bretagne. I love it there. I come back revitalized.”
“Really. You and Joan should come with me this summer. I rent the same little chaumière every year. Chaumière, a thatched cottage,” he translated. “No electricity. No gas.” Pronounced gazz. “No running water but for a well. And I adore it.”
“You should come, really. I’ll be there the entirety of July. I’m quite serious, I want you to come. Both of you. You and Joan. Really.”
“No. Fuck you. Really,” thought Buddy, but what he said was:
“Well, thanks, Stephen, but July I’ll be pretty busy, pre-production for a movie --”
“Oh, more’s the pity --”
“Yeah, hey, Stephen, where are you from?”
(“No, of course not originally, you dickwad, I meant where are you from last week, or yesterday, or tomorrow, you annoying fuck.”)
“Uh, yeah. Originally.”
“New Jersey, actually.”
“But that was years ago.”
“Long ago and far away.”
Long ago and far enough to pick up that phony-ass accent anyway.
Then Joan was there with her two caballeros (And Buddy finally figured out that they were Vladimir and Estragon.) and the conversation turned to how really marvelous Nicole Kidman had been in The Hours even if she had won the Oscar, and Buddy went off to try to take a piss. He couldn’t find the bathroom, and wound up outside on a deck in back of the house. He went down some wooden steps. A forbidding greyish mass lay about ten yards away in the darkness; a dead baby whale most likely. Beyond that was the beach and the ocean. He could have gone and pissed behind the whale, but fuck it. So he stood his wine glass on one of the steps and pissed on one of the pilings holding up the Mariner’s deck, which he very much enjoyed doing. He zipped up and decided to light a cigar and hide out here for as long as possible. As he drew on the flame he saw the food-table chick standing or lurking in the darkness under the far corner of the deck.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” said Buddy.
She glided over, silent as a cat on the sand. She held one of the peasant tumblers in her hand, half-filled with something dark.
“I took your advice,” she said. “Except I went for the red.”
“Red’s cool,” said Buddy. “How’d your cheese puffs turn out?”
“Burnt. But fortunately I’d prepped another batch so I stuck them in the oven. I just now took them in. He never even noticed one way or the other.”
“Great,” said Buddy. She stood there looking at him. “So, uh, you’re Stephen’s daughter?”
She looked down. She was about twenty-five, twenty-four. She didn’t seem to be wearing any make-up at all and her face was very white.
“I’m Buddy by the way.”
She looked up, sideways.
“And you’re -- uh -- um -- Lydia?”
“Ah, right. Like in, what was it, Shakespeare --”
“Right, she was the, um --”
“The good daughter,” she said.
“It’s all for you, you know.”
“The whole party. It’s all for you. Oh, I mean, my dad loves to throw parties anyway, but this time he got better food and more of it, and better wine.”
Better food? Better wine?
“So this Chantefleur’s the good stuff, huh?”
“It was on sale. He usually gets this really cheap Chilean wine. He likes to claim it’s better than any California. But he writes these parties off for his taxes anyway.”
She put her lower teeth over the lower right portion of her upper lip.
“Cordelia. Have we -- I get the feeling I’ve seen you before.”
“You mean before tonight?”
“Well, maybe --”
Up close like this in the light from the window she wasn’t too bad looking, in a first-Mrs. Rochester kind of way. Her eyes were big and dark and her brows were arched. Her mouth was slightly open, showing a lot of very white teeth that seemed to glow from some hidden source. Her hair was tied back but some of it had come loose and curled down along one side of her face. And come to think of it with the breeze blowing against her dress you could see her body wasn’t too --
“What did you think of the show tonight?” she asked.
“Well, uh --”
“You can be honest.”
“Okay,” said Buddy. “I really liked the French piece. I only understood about one tenth of it, but I really dug it. It was -- very moving. But the rest of the show -- at least the parts I didn’t sleep through -- I don’t know -- and just between you and me, I’m including my wife’s performance -- well, uh -- but then I did like the French thing, a lot.”
She stared at him, her mouth open. Then she said:
“I agree with you, except I thought the French piece sucked too.”
One of Buddy’s rules was never to disagree with a woman on the subject of another woman, so he said:
“Maybe you’re right. It was a little over the top.”
She pressed her lips together as if she’d just put on lipstick, then she cocked her head a bit to one side and stared at him. Okay. Buddy drew on his cigar and gazed out at the dead whale and the ocean.
“I saw you peeing,” she said. Buddy looked at her. Her head was upright now. “Not that I mind,” she said. “I pee outdoors sometimes.” She turned and peered at a trashcan a few feet away. “If you want to smoke your cigar upstairs my dad won’t mind,” she said to the trashcan. When it didn’t say anything she turned her head and looked at Buddy.
“Oh --” said Buddy, “I thought I’d chill out down here for a bit.”
“Aren’t you enjoying the party?”
“You were bored.”
She cocked her head to the other side now.
“You’re not like what I expected you to be,” she said, the “be” trailing off into a sort of growling in the back of her throat --
“Why did you expect anything at all?”
Her head straightened up again.
“Well, it’s just -- I know Joan, and -- and --”
Her eyes widened and her body stiffened.
“Excuse me,” she whispered, and she ducked off into the darkness under the house.
She was cuckoo.
Or maybe not -- Buddy heard the squeak of a screen door followed by a clumping on the deck above and then, sweeping aside an imaginary arras, the Mariner himself appeared at the top of the stairs.
(Continued here, and on, barring death, insanity or imprisonment. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a listing of all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Jonathan Shields Production.)